Losing Defensive Staff
Buckeye fans should sit up and take notice. Losing coaching staff members is extremely difficult on any team, let alone one looking to challenge for a national title. Mel Tucker and Mark Snyder will not simply be "replaced" by plugging in a few new faces. It simply does not work that way in the real world.
The impact of losing both co-defensive coordinators will likely produce a ripple effect. Jim Tressel does not just hire the first coach down the pike but instead appears to be fairly picky in his approach (as he should be). So, this means that instead of game planning, recruiting, or working to get better, the remaining members of the Ohio State coaching staff spent time trying to hire new people in both the winter and the spring. Second, the loss of coaches hurts consistency.
When asked about this dynamic in February (when it looked as if all of the coaches would return), coach Heacock commented, "Consistency is very important. I don't know, it just makes it all so much easier. We all know each other. We know how we are going to react. We know what game day is like. We know what practice is like. We know what game planning is like. We know what each other are thinking. It makes it a smoother operation."
Teams who win national titles generally are not replacing coaches. That happens after the title run. In the last 15 years, only two teams have won a national title with a new defensive coordinator (Jim Herrmann had been named the new defensive coordinator in Michigan's bowl game at the end of 1996). Florida accomplished this feat with the dynamic combination of Steve Spurrier running the offense and new defensive coordinator Bob Stoops manning the defense in 1996. However, this was before the BCS which would have matched Florida State and Arizona State – locking out the Gators from the title picture. The other team is Miami of Florida in 2001. When Butch Davis bolted for the NFL and took a few key coaches with him, Randy Shannon was hired from the Dolphins to step in and run the show on defense.
The reality is that while the Buckeyes appear to have hired two stellar assistants to replace those they lost, whether or not they can still make a title run in their absence is an open question.
Spring Game Retrospective
After pondering the spring scrimmage for nearly a month, I have come to a few conclusions:
First, as has likely been discussed ad nauseum, it was only a single scrimmage. While Tim Boeckman and Troy Smith appeared to have better production than Justin Zwick, what does that mean really? This was simply one three hour practice that the media and public are allowed to view. Granted Smith appears to be running on the inside track to start this fall (after serving out his suspension), but it is a long, long time away from September. From my perspective, it's not necessarily his performance per se that seems impressive but rather his desire to compete. Even when he fumbles the football (something no coach or fan likes to see), Smith scraps to get it back as hard as or even harder than the defense is trying to take it away.
The Buckeyes still look to have troubles at tailback. They lack the big tailback needed to simply bully teams at the line of scrimmage. Eric Haw and Antonio Pittman appear comfortable running to the outside and in space, but did not produce running between the tackles in short yardage situations. Further, Haw now appears to have legal troubles that could sideline him long enough for Maurice Wells to get his shot. Help is on the way in 2006 with the proverbial ‘big back'; Chris Wells has already committed to play for Ohio State. Until then, expect to see the fullback get his share of carries. Brandon Schnittker could potentially play a defining role in determining the success or failure of the Buckeye offense. Linked to his success will be the continued development of Dionte Johnson as a lead blocker.
Ted Ginn and Anthony Gonzalez both looked mostly human with the possible exception of Ginn's punt return. Perhaps the opposition will begin wetting down their fields before playing the Buckeyes, much like what used to occur in Major League Baseball when a speedy team was coming to town.
The future of the linebacking corps appears solid. Clearly the Buckeyes will be in need of additional players after 2005, but Chad Hoobler and Marcus Freeman both had a number of tackles and showed a nose for the football.
Pity the team that tries to run in Quinn Pitcock's area code. If the Buckeyes can surround him with a strong supporting cast it could be a long year for opposing offenses in the Horseshoe. Proficient defensive linemen not only pressure the quarterback and take down tailbacks, but they also allow linebackers to run free. This was part of the reason Matt Wilhelm had such an outstanding year in 2002; the interior of the defensive line was like a stone wall. Would be ball carriers had to go around or pick a small gap and Wilhelm simply had to be in the right place to make the tackle. In other words, Pitcock in the middle and a supporting cast around him would not only jam up the line of scrimmage but allow Schlegel, Hawk, and Carpenter room to roam.
Remember a lot can (and probably will) change between now and October. After all, coming out of spring 2004 Justin Zwick appeared to be the heir apparent at quarterback. Bam Childress and Lydell Ross were talking about going out with a bang for their senior season. Steve Rhering looked for all the world to be at least a year and possibly two away from seeing the playing field. Ted Ginn and Tony Gonzalez were not on the radar at wideout, and Ashton Youboty looked like he would sit for at least one more year after E. J. Underwood put on a show batting down several passes in coverage.
Maurice Clarett – Where Would You Draft Him?
To be completely honest, I am not certain I would draft him at all.
Yes, his talents are unmistakable. Yes, when he was on top of his game there was not (and still is not) a back in all of college football I would take over him in a game for all the marbles. Yes, he has had two years to get healthy, and his body has not taken the pounding that many in the draft have (a good thing given the shelf life of NFL tailbacks).
First, Clarett has shown a propensity to do his own thing. He is not a team player and has not in the past considered the team before himself. A loner from all reports, Clarett was not known as a positive influence in the locker room – even being described in terribly unflattering terms in private. Prior to Ohio State's first shot at a national title in nearly 30 years, Clarett blasted the university for not sending him home for a funeral even though Ohio State would have gladly given him a ticket if he had filled out the proper paperwork. He created a furor at a time when his teammates least needed the attention. Once suspended for taking improper gifts, instead of coming clean (and thinking about the team), he lied to the NCAA and ended up missing the entire 2003 football campaign. Offered one more chance to help Ohio State and his teammates in the spring of 2004, Clarett thumbed his nose at the opportunity, waiting until the final stretch of the season to once again blast his former team.
Second, Maurice Clarett has the potential to be a career killer. In every football locker room across the nation – from middle school upward – there are controversies, unpleasantries, and difficulties. No coach, team, or organization needs those aired for the entire world to see. In fact, to air them like so much dirty laundry would likely cause heads to roll. Clarett's actions and statements over the past three years show that he will not only consider revealing everything he might know (or think he knows) – he will do it and think himself Don Quixote. Any NFL general manager who takes a chance on him is also taking a chance that Clarett could end his career if everything does not work out how he had planned. Case in point is that while Jim Tressel and Andy Geiger were still trying to help him by going to bat for him with the NCAA, Clarett cut their legs out from under them and left them hanging out to dry as if all of what had happened were somehow their fault and not his own.
In sum, I personally would sleep easier at night knowing that while I could be criticized for passing up Clarett if he succeeds – he could not take the olive branch I offered and use it as kindling to burn me at the stake if everything went south.
Here is hoping Maurice Clarett turns his life around, has a long career in the NFL, and proves my opinion wrong; he has too much talent to throw it all away.